Sony HT-X8500 soundbar review

hcc_recommendedIt may lack upfiring drivers, but this affordable Dolby Atmos system compensates with unbridled chutzpah, says Steve May

The SONY HT-X8500 is proof that you don't need to spend big for a truly entertaining Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar. Modestly priced (given that you can easily spend twice as much for a rival system), it's surprisingly compact and compatible with both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

But there are caveats. This isn't a smart bar and if you want to cast Chrome, you'll need to look elsewhere. Wireless connectivity is limited to Bluetooth.

And despite the Atmos appellation, it adopts a 2.1 channel design. There are no Dolby-enabled upfiring drivers; it doesn't even come with a separate wireless subwoofer, preferring to harrumph bass through two forward-facing woofers.

But the experience it offers is greater than the sum of its parts. The key is technology first heard on Sony's HT-ZF9 predecessor [reviewed HCC #289], specifically Sony's Vertical Sound Engine, which creates the illusion of audio immersion.

Sizing It Up
Physically, the HT-X8500 is a middleweight. Just 89cm wide, it's most obviously suitable for sets measuring between 49in and 55in, and slim enough to sit comfortably in front of most of them. Naturally, it can also be wall-mounted.

Build quality is good enough. The front-facing driver array (left and right mid/high cones, placed either side of a dual driver subwoofer) can just be seen behind a rolled grille, while grey trim adds a designer flourish. Touch-sensitive buttons are provided for power, input selection, volume control and Bluetooth pairing.

Connections are a digital optical audio input, and twin HDMI – one an output with eARC – compatible with Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG. Some might want more HDMI inputs, but if you connect the majority of your sources direct to your TV, and listen via the Audio Return Channel, the specification here isn't too difficult to live with.


Reflecting its upper-budget price point, the HT-X8500 has no onscreen menus. Instead, a line of LED lights on the soundbar indicate source and audio format, be it Atmos or DTS:X.

The 'bar ships with a slim (somewhat ugly) remote control, peppered with buttons, including a variety of individual sound modes (Cinema, Music, Game, etc).

Ready To Roll
Straight from the box, it's all plug and play. The HT-X8500 isn't fussy when it comes to placement and can be parked in AV shelving, as it doesn't rely on reflected sound.

The fun starts as soon as you power up. This soundbar goes loud and plays wide, Sony's digital processing proving immediately effective. In many ways, it's a good deal easier to live with than the HT-ZF9, which was inscrutable at best. Here things are a lot more clear cut.

Beneath the hood you'll find S-Force Pro front surround audio processing, coupled to the brand's Vertical Sound Engine. While the latter isn't able to simulate overhead effects (very few soundbars can, regardless of budget), what it does do is paint a soundstage that towers in a way regular stereo systems can't, and wraps audio around your seating position, almost like the sonic equivalent of Cinerama.

Sony suggests the HT-X8500 creates a soundfield comparable to an Atmos 7.1.2 system. That's a bit wishful, but for £350 let's not be overly pedantic. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X movies exhibit a clear sense of expanded height and width. The bar's Vertical Sound trickery doesn't just work with object-based codecs, it can be used as an upmixer for conventional 5.1 and two-channel sound sources too.

It's a gutsy performer, and doesn't run out of steam in the average living room. Given the physical confines of the cabinet, I expected some shortfall in slam, but again this mid-ranger belies expectation, with its forward-facing woofers shifting air.